‘Straight doesn’t make fun of gays’
Gul Panag proved that she was more than just a cute pair of dimples when she signed up films like Nagesh Kukunoor’s Dor and Navdeep Singh’s Manorama Six Feet Under.
The actress hopes to prove herself again in Parvathi Balagopalan’s Straight, co-starring Vinay Pathak, Anuj Saxena and Siddharth Makkar.
Gul tells Nithya Ramani about it, in a candid conversation.
What is Straight about?
Straight is a romantic comedy, involving two men and a woman. The men Pinu (Vinay Pathak) and Kamlesh (Anuj Saxena) are not in love with me. Instead, Kamlesh and I are vying for Pinu’s attention. Both of us like Pinu, but he needs to decide whom he likes. He finds himself attracted to both of them. He’s confused cannot make up his mind. Pinu is going to be 40 and is still unmarried.
What made you sign up this film?
It is made by a very dear friend, Parvathi Balagopalan. I have looked up to her for a long time. She is an outstanding and intelligent director. Parvathi is relaxed, and can multi-task. When she approached me, I agreed. I didn’t read the script, didn’t ask her about my role. I have faith in her sensibility and the kind of work she does. I hope this will not be a bad decision.
‘When I read the script, I realised I didn’t have much to do’
This is different kind of film…
It’s the kind of films I’ve always done — different. If it was any other director, I wouldn’t have blindly accepted the film. Parvathi cannot make a bad film.
When I read the script, I realised I didn’t have much to do. But she convinced me that it would be good.
She has done only one film, Rules: Pyaar Ke Superhit Formula. What makes you so confident about her?
I have done another film with her, which is almost complete. Straight is my second film with Parvathi. She is very focused, and not unpleasant to work with. I have worked with directors who are focused but are not good company on the sets.
I liked Rules — the fact that she dealt with the age old boy-meets-girl theme so differently. She took it to another level.
She puts forth her point clearly, and does not bully. She can bully me because she knows me for so long. But it can get scary if you feel that you’re being directed by your mother. I know how Konkona must be feeling when she’s directed by [her mother] Aparna Sen.
How different is this character compared to your earlier roles?
I play a caricature artist in Straight, who struggles to make ends meet. She’s very passionate about life. She’s not angry or sad; she’s a normal person. She believes that imperfections are more attractive than perfections.
In the past, I have done characters, who have some dominating traits — either they are on a mission, or she’s a nagging house wife, or a crusader, or a silently grieving person… But this girl in Straight doesn’t have a dominating trait. That’s why it’s more difficult. I hope people will like it.
‘In India, we’re under immense pressure to be straight’
What do you look at when you take up a film?
I’d like to say it’s the story, the character, the director and producer. That’s important, no doubt. But eventually, it’s my gut instinct.
This film is about being straight or not. What do you think about this?
In India, we’re under immense pressure to be straight. There’s a natural assumption that you are straight. But in a democracy, everyone has the right to be open about their sexual preferences. Tomorrow, can the government tell you what time to brush your teeth, what time to eat and what colour underwear you should wear? They can’t.
Films like Kal Ho Naa Ho and Dostana have also touched upon homosexuality. How different is your film?
Straight doesn’t make fun of gays. There is an important crisis in this guy’s life — he doesn’t know if hes’s gay or straight. This film also does away with stereotypes, and doesn’t show typical mannerisms.
Homosexuality is the core issue of the film. It’s not something we have just touched upon.
‘I want to play Aamir Khan in Dil Chahta Hai’
How was it working with Vinay Pathak?
This is my second film with him, after Manorama Six Feet Under. He has this unique quality where he makes you feel that he knows nothing, and you know everything. When you work with experienced actors, it works to your advantage. Your performance gets enhanced.
Acting is just reacting to situations, and when you react to an experienced actor, it makes your work that much simpler. I get nervous when I’m not working with experienced actors or those who don’t have command over their craft.
Vinay does yoga every morning. Sometimes, we would be ready to shoot and would have to wait for Vinay because he was doing yoga.
What kind of roles do you want to play?
I want to play Aamir Khan in Dil Chahta Hai. We don’t have enough funky roles for women.
I would love to do an action role someday. I have been playing with guns since I was 15. I have done skeet and rifle shooting. I have been learning karate since I was six.
‘I know I have kissing scenes in all my films’
Do you think skin show is important to survive in the film industry?
I don’t know, I don’t think about it. Many people have got attention because of skin show but they haven’t gotten any far after that. And there have been people, who make it without any skin show.
Did your Maxim shoot help you in get more offers?
I don’t think people cast me for how I look. The Maxim cover shoot was not unusual. I have done more like that. I don’t need to do anything extra to attract attention. I’m good looking and people cast me because I am fit.
You seem to have become the female version of Emraan Hashmi — you’ve been kissing in most of your films.
I know I have kissing scenes in all my films. This is my seventh. For me, it’s not an issue. A kissing scene is not something I do to garner publicity. It’s very relevant in this film.
None of the kissing scenes in my films have been used as promotional tools. I am sure nobody even remembers the kissing scenes I’ve done. There was a kiss in Dhoop, a lovemaking scene in Dor. There is much more to the films that just the kiss. I do films that will make me proud when I see them 50 years down the line.
Rajat Kapoor’s Rectangular Love Story with Ranvir Shorey and Purab Kohli.